This article was posted on the web site of the Sand Mountain Reporter on June 15, 2012.
Hewett Memorial United Methodist Church normally has two services: a contemporary service and a traditional service. However, churchgoers participated in a new kind of worship experience, called Hewett Live 2.0, Sunday.
The event brought everyone together in one service that incorporated use of modern technology in an effort to engage the congregation.
“The intention is to wire ourselves as congregation into a wired world of 20-45 years old and incorporate the worshiping of God in that where so often the idea of a laptop or iPhone is taboo because it is considered too immature or too playful,” said Hewett pastor Jeff Ponder-Twardy.
The “proof of concept” service was a trial run of the idea, which has been tossed about among church leaders for several months.
“It’s really a step out from both places,” Ponder-Twardy said “The intention of this service was really to address what we’re seeing, in effect, what the expectations are today with adults and children. Wherever they go, they have an opportunity to wire themselves through the Internet into an experience.”
As 10 a.m. rolled around Sunday morning, everyone found their seats and a voice came over the sound system encouraging members of the congregation to use their smartphones, iPads and laptops to take pictures and video. They were asked to log onto Facebook and Twitter and “tell people how exciting it is in this church today.”
Pictures and video of the service appeared throughout the Hewett Live event page on Facebook.
“Awesome service!! Thank you so much for letting us be a part of it!” posted church member Amy Russell, who watched the service with her family over the Internet via Skype from their home in England.
During several “social media breaks,” church member Shelby Cochran engaged the congregation in questions relating to the sermon, asking them to post their answers online and share live with the crowd.
“We asked a question and asked for immediate response,” Ponder-Twardy said. “The questions weren’t merely Internet related. To me it was this incorporation. As a pastor, I long for those moments when there is an incorporation of what you’re trying to communicate with the congregation. It was like we were literally sitting around a big round table.”
Marshall County Assistant District Attorney and District Judge elect Mitch Floyd shared his testimony during a live interview, and Ponder-Twardy delivered a message from Psalm 102:16-22 in which he conveyed God’s ability to “set us free” and a call to record God’s work.
“We record so that we have a reason to praise God,” he said. “The agenda of God is this: He sets people free.”
Attendees were able to type, save and share notes on the sermon through the church’s YouVersion page.
Ponder-Twardy later shared his excitement at seeing the congregation’s participation and enthusiasm during the service.
“It almost felt like the building bounced,” he said. “The building leapt. That’s the picture I have. When they were singing ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ it felt like the building itself was moving. That was very cool. When the congregation was showing appreciation for the music, to me it was very heartfelt.”
After talking with several members later, Ponder-Twardy said the overall opinion was the service was “exciting.”
“They liked being all together and seeing the sanctuary full,” he said. “It was very much a homecoming for some to be part of the worship experience. In that regard it was very good.”
To Ponder-Twardy’s surprise, the younger members of the church weren’t as fond of the technological aspects of the service.
“They said although they enjoyed it, they found it sometimes too rehearsed,” he said. “That was kind of an interesting reaction from the younger folks. That’s pretty consistent. They felt there were some aspects of the music that were performance oriented and not worship from the heart.”
Ponder-Twardy also said some church members found the incorporation of technology and social media “distracting.” The church’s administrative board plans to discuss the service and vote whether or not to make the change permanent during its regular meeting next month.
“We will discuss it wholeheartedly and vote on it,” Ponder-Twardy said. “Even if the board disapproves of the proposal as it is now written, my belief is it will prompt us to entertain options regarding a worship service like this.
“It was energy-filled, and people enjoyed it. The attitude consistently is that it was wonderful with everybody being together.”
© 2012 sandmountainreporter.com. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.